What do President Obama and Carolyn James have in common? Both of us had speaking engagements last weekend in Minneapolis—home of the Twins, Garrison Keillor, the Billy Graham Association, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Solomon’s Porch, the most eye-popping Farmers Market, and who knows what else! And both of us were facing the secular press.

I was in town for the Religion Newswriters Association Convention—an annual gathering of journalists who cover religious topics for secular newspapers and media. I participated on a panel moderated by Julia Duin of The Washington Times, with fellow-panelists John Piper and Collin Hansen, CTI journalist and author of Young, Restless and Reformed. Our panel topic was the resurgence of Calvinism among young evangelicals (the subject of Collin’s book). This YR&R movement has drawn the interest of the media. You can read Collin’s CTI article about it here.

The press wanted to know more.

Participating on the panel gave me the opportunity to talk about a growing phenomenon I’m seeing among women that shares common threads with the YR&R, but goes well beyond Reformed circles to include a wide range of denominations. Everywhere I go, women I meet are hungry to learn more about God and to dig deeper into Scripture. This confirms my thesis (see When Life and Beliefs Collide) that God created women to be theologians—that knowing him is our highest priority.

This pursuit of deeper understanding isn’t the end of the matter, however, for these same women find that this deepening knowledge and love for God stirs up a passionate Don’t Waste Your Life activism. Women don’t just want to take in. They are compelled also to live out the rich and radically transforming theology they are learning. They don’t want their relationships with God to be all talk. They long to incarnate the gospel to those around them.

The other trend I’m seeing consistently is a God-given desire among women to work well with their Christian brothers. This isn’t about “taking over,” as some fear, but a healthy desire to be part of the team, to interact and contribute, to be diligent stewards of the gifts God has entrusted to them for his church—in sum, to make their lives count for the kingdom. I think all of these trends among women are worthy of press attention and certainly are reasons to celebrate.

Following our presentations, a journalist asked Piper to explain the strong male-emphasis and Complementarian stance of the YR&R movement. It was a follow-up question to comments I made in my presentation regarding the fact that, although many women fully embrace the YR&R movement, other women within the movement are keenly aware and bewildered by the fact that they are a secondary audience at YR&R conferences. They’re permitted to attend, but it’s clear they aren’t the target audience.

In the process of explaining, John Piper expressed concern about the “feminization of the church.” I must confess that expression always gives me pause. It never fails to strike me as disparaging women for their committed involvement as members of the Body of Christ. It casts a negative light on the exciting trends I’m seeing among women. At the very least it sends a clear message to women that we should forget celebrating the trends I’m seeing and make ourselves scarce.

Instead, I asked John about it afterwards. Which led to an interesting and thoughtful conversation I hope will continue.

Is it possible that there are too many women in the church? That their very presence and kingdom activity are deterrents for men to respond to the gospel or get involved in ministry? Did Paul worry about “feminization” when he planted the church in Philippi with a committed team of women? Can women—can anyone—do too much for the kingdom? And if men are holding back, is the solution to restrain or sideline women? Or does not the very scope of our mission in the world mean we should be calling both men and women to serve God heart and soul and to do it together?

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21 Responses to Minneapolis

  1. kupercaya says:

    Amen! And I just wanted to say I have been using your book, “Lost Women of the Bible” and a recording of a workshop you did at a CBE conference a few yrs back to teach my tiny congregation about Gender justice this yr. =) Thank you!
    lay-pastor, Chinatown, NYC


  2. Thanks for a thoughtful post. I'm blogging about it and it will post tomorrow (already had a post for today), but I wanted to thank you before I forgot.


  3. meredith says:

    Piper's remark and the accompanying approach that disparagingly calls the high participation of women in church the 'feminization' of the church is one of the main reasons I sit back and do nothing 'official' in church anymore. I have two seminary degrees and have been told I have a gift for teaching, but I am disqualified from much of that in the church because I am not male. Any ministry I have now is completely outside the church and completely optional, in a sense. Church is pretty dull for me now, but I am sort of learning to enjoy the laziness that 'feminization' affords. (!)

    Would be very interested to read more of your thoughts on this subject.


  4. Carolyn says:

    I, too, am discomforted by the phrase “the feminization of the church.” However, reading “What Would Jesus Value?” by Denis Haack has given me pause. Here is a link. I would appreciate hearing your insights on this isssue.



  5. E.K. says:

    Rather ironic that Piper thinks the *Bride* of Christ is being feminized, isn't it?

    Coupled this with his recent recommendations to the Bride that wives should endure a night of smacking before asking for help with abusive husbands…????

    It is a wonder to me that he is so “popular” among Christians.

    I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. Your books have been a blessing to me and wonderful tools!


  6. Lark says:

    E.K., when/where is that recommendation made? Is it in something viewable on the 'net?

    Thanks for bringing this whole topic up Carolyn, not just because it's encouraging and affirming to hear that other people are troubled by the use of “feminized” as a negative word by fellow Christians, but by your self-controlled response to it.

    I tend to get hot under the collar and a bit reactionary when I hear things like this. With the attitude of patience, love, and reasonableness that you display in your blog you've been a healthy role model for me as a young woman trying to find her theological feet in regard to gender issues. Thanks for speaking up and keeping a cool head! God bless your understanding and work.


  7. Judy says:

    I agree that the feminine should not be used with a negative connotation. I always reply to the whole “the Bible is all male oriented and woman are marginalized” with information about how important and precious is the Bride is to the story.

    “They”could come up with a better word to encourage/rebuke men to man up, or step up and become all that they can, and should be. This reticence on the part of church men is a result of the world/culture on them, and is sad, as is the condition of the women in the church. We can't take our models from without, which produces “feminists” and “chauvinists” and not strong, mature females and males.


  8. tony t says:

    Piper's comments also give me pause and reinforces my experience (I am ruling elder in the PCA) that women are not viewed as or encouraged to be co-laborers. Lip service is given but not resources, position or responsibility. We are not talking about office, but function.

    Unfortunately, this is a result of culture infecting the church. When I say culture I am not talking secular, hollywood, godless culture. I am talking about red, white and blue American culture (pick any region of the country).

    In the PCA especially, a southern,predominately white, group of believers, the “expectation” about women is primitive centered around childbearing and housekeeping rather than service toward God and his kingdom in whatever gift set God has provided. Women whose gift set does not include baking and breeding are looked at as weird or worse yet, liberal!

    As a father of two young daughters, who both are very active in ministry, they saw their mother primarily as a disciple of Christ and my co-laborer (sometimes I was her co-laborer), not as wife who “follows” blindly. I was challenged plenty of times in my sin when trying to “lead” my family and insubordination on her part was biblical.

    We need more women to be co-warriors with men to call out what is best and brightest in them and help mitigate the worst and darkest within them. Men are way to passive on their own and like Adam are cowards when they blame women for being around.

    As an ruling elder, I regularly push a better view of women because they are my sheep as well. Recently during deacon nominations, I reminded the Pastor (and he did) to also call for women to come forward and help the deacons (as deacon assistants) because we need them as well to minister to the body.

    Piper should be encouraged to correct his phrasing of the issue, it is not the “feminization of the church” that is the problem, it is the “passivity of Christian Men” wasting their lives in matters outside the Church.


  9. Judy says:

    Bingo! Well put Tony T. I would add that childbearing and rearing of children is the ultimate evangelizing and of utmost importance on every level, so should never be prefaced by “just.

    The world has marginalized woman and this process pretty effectively, and THAT has permeated the church as well. All this is so intermingled that it can not be untangled by just talking about it, although it's a start, but requires actual real conversion and contact with the Holy Spirit.

    Most members of churches seem to just belong to a club, and as such are not so much affected by the scriptures(and the new life they bring) as by the culture they really live in.


  10. E.K. says:


    It was on Aug. 19th = you can view the video clip at Piper's site: desiringgod.org

    He is answering a question about wives submission to abusive husbands.


  11. The “feminization” concern is a “glass half empty” view of the church that forgets about the great opportunity of ministry to women, developing them for ministry. If the church were predominately male, sadly, we would not be talking about the masculinization of the church. Its really time that Piper, et al see this for what it is, the further marginalization of women. While the comtemporary church embraces diversity, it needs to take a fresh look at this issue.


  12. Kathy says:

    Thank you, Carolyn, for giving voice, engaging John Piper, and working to establish true conversation over this very critical concern.

    I have been refreshed, encouraged, and strengthened by your writings, and am educating the women in my own congregation. The response is overwhelming – women are hungry to grow strong in the Lord and to serve Him along with their brothers. God is directing this; and I pray that He strengthens you as you boldly and courageously stand in the gap.


  13. I also want to thank you, Carolyn, for the grace you exhibited in engaging John and others. In the midst of responding to our salvation, we need to love our fellow seekers and come alongside them. You are a great demonstration of that. It's not backing down from the truth both in scripture and within us, but it's an honoring others before ourselves that demonstrates Christ's example to the world today. I'm always encouraged to look at His life and how He engaged others. John reminds me of Nicodemus, honestly seeking. I'll be praying for him and other seekers.


  14. Clint Hogrefe says:

    What I heard John Piper say was that there are “thousands” of ways that women serve and bless the church but that God has designed the roles for men and women in the church and in the home. Holy Scripture has clearly established that men are to serve as elders; authoritatively ruling and teaching. The arguments I'm reading in these comments and from Carolyn's post are not against John Piper or any complementarian, but against God's revealed Word.


  15. As I just read this staunch and assertive presentation of this man telling what God has revealed, I thought a man should respond. He states three assumptions that are not valid. 1. God does have design authority but definitive roles for women in the home and men to rule them is not one of them. 2. Holy scripture does not establish explicit categories for women go to for how to define, for all earthly time, how they can serve. 3. He is wrong to bully others by pounding his bible at women and saying he knows what God says and anybody who disagrees is against God Himself. Clint seems a man of the ancient Rabbinic tradition. Effortlessly subjugating all that he can.


  16. Kristen says:

    Thank you, Carolyn, for an amazing and encouraging article! Your work for the edification of the Church is amazing, and is opening doors for young women like me to be able to pursue God's call on our lives. Thank you for taking a stand!

    Tony T., thank you for your encouragement, too! I actually really wanted to look into joining the PCA, but I realized I wouldn't be able to teach theology or biblical subjects for fear I'd be teaching men. I decided I wouldn't want to become emotionally and spiritually attached to a church in which I would not be able to do what God's called me to do. While I do respect the Complimentarian viewpoint (when it is itself respectful of women) it is definitely encouraging to know that there are also men out there who support the women who have been called by God to teach and minister alongside men!


  17. Bob Woolsey says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen:

    Not only do I agree with you but it has been too long women have been cast to the back of the bus and without the realization of Christ's understand and philosophy of women leaders. Never does our savior say anything about women and men not being equal but treats them as equals, it has been us men who have tried to lord it over women and it time for a shift. The organization God had me found deals with this issue not only on a Christianity level but a world level,
    It is my sincere belief women are the future of the world. We believe that women are more compassionate, more forgiving, more willing to talk and converse regarding all issues. There is not doubt in my mind and others if women ran this world we would have less wars, less poverty and more prosperity.
    God could not have created women to put them at the back of the bus.
    It is not about gender superiority or even gender equality but gender equanimity. Please look at website, http://www.womnfutr.com and our facebook group womnfutr and if you agree with where we are going please join our group.
    I for one as do others believe the world is ready for women leaders to lead us into the next decades and to end such areas s child sexual abuse.
    I believe the areas of discussion which God gave me (sharing, respect and truth) are better dealt with by women.
    For example, most people think sharing has to do with giving but has to do with receiving as well and asking. If you can't do either of those, how can you receive God's love?
    I am excited about the future of the world with women in charge and prove me and God right.



  18. bpun says:

    Carolyn, I am a Gordon-Conwell student and just heard your husband deliver a fine speech today as our new Provost. My ears perked up a little when Dr. Davis said that he also affirmed women serving in ministry. My wife has read and loves your book, When Life and Beliefs collide. I did a google search on you, and discovered that you actively want to encourage women to think theologically and use their gifts to their full potential. Amen to that! I am a complementarian, a member of a PCA church, and looking to minister in the PCA. I whole-heartedly believe in male elders in the church and headship in the family. But I am frustrated when “egalitarians” constantly tell me that my position thus means that thus I believe that women's voices should not be valued and heard in the church and that women should not study theology. I am searching for a third way — a way that we can uncompromisingly affirm male leadership, but a male leadership that sacrifically affirms women! Churches that value their voices and seeks them out — but still in the context of male leadership. I was excited to hear about you — because it seems like you might be a voice for this third way. But it seems like you avoid being pinned down to a label or position. This is probably b/c you want to maintain dialogue with both egalitarians and complementarians. But I think it's pretty important to know what kind of “affirmation for women” you are endorsing. The context of male leadership changes things significantly. I wouldn't use “feminization” like Piper — but we need sacrificial, strong male leadership more than ever in the church as well. I long to hear from more strong, theologically-minded women who affirm male leadership, and I'm wondering if you're an example of this. Even if you're not, I will still be on the look-out for things you are doing, and willing to listen and learn! God Bless! — Ben Pun


  19. That was a thoughtful response to Carolyn. You didn't ask me to respond, but if I may, I am a male who may be a theist or not. But it doesn't take a degree from Gordon-Conwell to see through what you are proposing to her. The kernel being; headship is rulership and this aspect you won't negotiate on. You're not like the prior generations, which deemed headship ownership, no, you are more modern than that and only want authority over decision making, policy, home and ecclesiastical ownership. You are looking for ways in which to find options of how others may compromise. Having read her work you ask if she would concede to your position and help your cause, but with a twist to it. You certainly didn't provide yourself as a model of the 'third way.' You epitomize male dominance, i.e., others must be subjugated to your way. Though you are congenial about it.
    Seems quite similar to a tyrant saying to his, so called workers, “just do as I say and we will get along very well together. Challenge me and you will be in for serious displeasure. There can be only one gender who rules and leads the way.” You seem to be asking if she would be a good sport and be conciliatory to your staunch, not to be altered rules of the road. With the sincere plea that we need more good males who will lead according to your standard and time tested doctrine. Odd how teamwork, order, gifting, commitment are all of lessor worth than males being preeminent.
    It seems that both egalitarian and complimentarian are words not suited to what each generalized group is called. Males are by nature different to females. Females aren't demanding that all things be 50-50 equal, feminists might but Piper's stridency is nauseating, for Christian women are not for 60-70's feminist agendas. Piper attacks that because that is easy. He is attacking a red herring. He with Gruden and others, are set on what they believe, so they don't take seriously the scriptural declarations that females are attesting that God is stating in scripture. So Piper bullies canards as if he is one of the Talmudic elite and that ends the discussion. Ben says the same to Carolyn but in more gracious way.


  20. Anonymous says:

    Regarding Ben's comment and the response of imaggioframes:

    The saving knowledge of God is transformative. It makes things possible that are not for fallen man (humanity in its natural state). Therefore while the cynical reaction makes sense from an earthly perspective, it is entirely possible that Ben could genuinely seek a harmonious relationship that still involves hierarchical structure (provided he has been transformed by knowing Christ as his savior).

    It's hard to say much more than that based on limited comments, but I want to want to encourage Ben and men like him. Carolyn has an important message and it will go farther if men also call for the development of women as theologians for the good of the entire Christian body. These men think that it should happen in a certain context, but that it should happen.


  21. Imaggio says:

    I like your challenge. You are making a case that Ben wants harmonious relationships. He also wants them in this heirarchical order; I grant that both are so. You also state that I have the role of the cynical 'earthly' orientation and you and Ben have the more sincere 'transformative' one. Since that is the thing in contention, you haven't earned the right to give yourself this trademark yet. (It is not that you or I are not transformed in the salfivic view but in the sense of who is a freeperson and who is caste in a non-changing, non-liberating framework for service and worth). For I can say that I have the 'transformed' unction of the better way and you the lessor way. We have to agree that one of us is right but you don't get that title just because you say you do. There has to be overwhelming soundness to your case. Each side has made an extremely nuanced argument with the best of intentions (usually).

    You state you want people like Ben encouraged to continue on in the traditional norms of male dominance and female subservience. You want women to be theologians, but with the caveat, only where men say they should and in that context only, should it even be possible. Men can change there minds at will on the issue. It then must be adhered to; etc etc.

    Well that's a peachy way to see things anonymous, but that is the very struggle we are endeavoring to discuss. You are graceful but you just gave the nod to an authoritarian system of absolute submissive behavior defined by, guess who, men and women reading into the bible that which gives the male the lordship and federalship over the other gender in the kingdom. The questions on the table is who owns or rules who? Who owns the keys to the transformative tool box? Who owns the means of distributing the gifts and how they are to be used? Who sits in authority and measures out where and when they can be utilized?

    Is it fair to say that you don't give any credence to your need to adjust your thinking about womens roles? At least let these keen distinctions be clearly stated and respectfully tolerated.


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